Raptus Ex Machina
Taken by the Machine

by Van © 2023

Chapter 8

Dramatis Personæ


Swimming in the endless pool was one of Lydia's favorite exercise options.  She cycled through her usual mix of different strokes... and finally reached the end of the session.  The water jets slackened and went still, Lydia planted her feet on the glass floor of the pool, padded/sloshed to the side, and used the ladder-steps recessed into the side wall to climb from the sloshing water.  Shivering delicately as water evaporated from her dripping, bikini-clad body, she rolled her shoulders, flailed her arms, and padded towards the door to the nearby yoga studio and the solution to her post-swim chill.  The system knew that after a swim User-zero-zero-Aelios-comma-Lydia almost always indulged in an extended bask in the studio's attached dry-sauna, so the cedar-lined space was already at the user-specified temperature of 170°F (77°C), fresh towels were on hand, and a selection of Lydia's favorite beverages were stocked in a well-insulated mini-refrigerator built into one of the cedar benches.

As she approached the door, Lydia pulled the strings of her sopping wet bikini top and bottom and dropped them on the concrete floor of the deck.  A valet-bot was already on its way to collect the soggy garment and induct it into the laundry routine.  She was still reveling in the thought of her beloved Alice involuntarily immersed in the endless pool, trapped in a cute but inescapable mermaid costume, and struggling to maintain an endless series of dolphin-kicks to prevent attached lengths of fishing line from snapping taut and tightening the cruel, insidious clamps that would painfully pinch her nipples.  Lydia's pussy quivered at the thought.

Nude and still wet, Lydia padded across the padded floor of the yoga-studio... the glass door of the dry-sauna slid open as she approached... and she entered the hot, dry space.  She waited while nozzles built into the sauna's cedar ceiling wet a section of the top bench against the far wall, then climbed up and reclined full-length on her back with a folded towel under her head, and closed her eyes.

Life was wonderful.  Her elaborate plan had successfully come to fruition.  Once again Alice was her girlfriend, and she would remain so forever!  As for the unplanned but necessary capture of Edwina Bliss, that had turned out to be a fortuitous plus!  Alice hadn't intended to have a prisoner (other than Alice) available for the final testing of the many punishments and restraint-schemes she had planned for her beloved, and now she had one!

Eyes still closed, Lydia smiled and heaved a supremely self-satisfied sigh.  Clearly, the very universe itself was on her side.


To Edwina's infinite relief, the system responded to her verbal command and released her from her synthetic rubber tubing bondage—all of it!

It had worked!  The worm she'd planted in Lydia's system had fulfilled its function!  Test Subject Edwina Bliss was now User-zero-zero-Bliss-comma-Edwina!  She was still naked, of course, but no longer bound and helpless.  She was FREE, and intended to stay that way.

Edwina spoke again.  "Direct me to the nearest workstation!"  The chamber door whisked open, there was a brief pause... then her old friend the mini-bot with the red dome-light on top rolled across the threshold.  The light flashed three times, as always, then glowed a steady ruby-red.

Despite everything that had happened, Edwina smiled down at the little robot.  For some reason, probably because she was no longer a bound and/or gagged prisoner, she now considered the mini-bot to be quite cute.  It reminded her of the adorable little "mouse droid" of the Star Wars franchise... only with a red light on top.  Anyway...

Edwina padded in the mini-bot's wake through the doorway, down the corridor, and to a steel panel set in the concrete wall at waist height.  The panel whisked open, a keyboard extended from the shallow alcove thus revealed, and the computer monitor mounted inside began to glow, displaying the ΛLIOS ÇYBRTRONICS™ network interface, open to a System Maintenance menu.  Naked and smiling, Edwina pulled her tangled hair back and let it drape down her back, then flexed her fingers, bit her lower lip in concentration, and set to work.

In less than half an hour she accomplished the most important tasks on her mental list of "cyber-coup-things-to-do."  Specifically...
1.  Carefully, gingerly, Edwina isolated Lydia's user authority, downgraded it to the the lowest possible level (less than "GUEST") and locking her out of all control systems.  She had to be careful in case there were hidden security back doors available only to Lydia.  With her new zero-zero access and six month's of experience with the system before her capture, Edwina felt she had a decent chance of finding and eliminating any booby-traps and boltholes Lydia had salted away in the hi-level code.

2.  She also put a temporary hold on Lydia's e-mail and messaging in-boxes.  In the long term she'd have to find a way to deal with the senior executives in the office building on the far side of the mountain/hill, but for now a simple "privacy" flag would have to do.

3.  She ascertained the status of her captor... and found Lydia swimming in an endless pool up on the mansion's deck.  She noted her nemesis was scheduled to use a dry-sauna immediately afterwards, and quickly deployed capture-bots to apprehend her if instead she started heading for her office, bedroom, or anywhere else.  The sauna seemed like a good place to keep Lydia bottled up until she was ready to deal with her properly.  (Oh-by-the-way, programming the capture-bots and the rest of the prisoner-handling technology was simplicity itself.  They were 99% autonomous and all Edwina had to do was specify Lydia as their target and choose the desired actions off a set of menus.)
4.  Next, she checked in on Alice.  An image appeared on the screen, replacing Lydia swimming in the pool, and Edwina's eyes popped wide in concern!  She scanned the menu choices listed beside Alice's image... and her expression grew grim.
Alice on iceAlice was naked (which was hardly surprising) and lying on her back with her arms at her sides inside what amounted to a futuristic steel and glass sarcophagus!  It had a curved, clear, closed cover, and was lit from within by a row of LED lights on either side of her supine body.  The surface under Alice appeared to be hard and without padding, and she was restrained by black leather and/or nylon webbing medical-style restraints at her ankles, thighs, wrists, waist, and across her squashed breasts.  Diagonal straps pinned back her shoulders and what amounted to a gas-mask covered her face.  Additional straps pinned her head in place, passing across her forehead and under her chin—and although it wasn't obvious from looking at the image, according to the list there was more.
A.  The gas-mask incorporated a mouth-filling gag with silicon rubber bite-protectors and a perforated spherical plug.

B.  The system was carefully regulating Alice's breathing, allowing her only shallow, widely-spaced breaths.  Alice had no choice but to remain "calm."

C.  Also, the breathing mixture included an anti-soporific, sleep-suppressing gas!  Alice was helplessly restrained and had no choice but to lay in her bonds... but she couldn't rest!

D.  Finally, also according to the list, a curved mirror was mounted on the ceiling of the chamber.  So, as the only lights shining in the chamber were inside the sarcophagus, all Alice could see when she gazed up through her gas-mask and the clear cover of her sarcophagus was a virtually unobstructed reflection of her own naked, restrained, totally helpless self.
Edwina scowled as she returned to her things-to-do-list.  Lydia was being a real bitch, but that was hardly a novel development.  Anyway...
5.  What to do with Lydia?  Even if she'd been "defanged," meaning her access to the control systems had been successfully eliminated, the bitch couldn't be allowed to wander around loose.  Edwina's fingers flew over the keyboard and she quickly cobbled together a capture routine for "User-Zed-Zed-Aelios-comma-Lydia", selecting items off the relevant menus.  With her knowledge and the user-friendly design of the interface, it was almost trivially easy.  Edwina paused as, on the screen she'd tasked to keep track of the former mistress of the mansion, Lydia was climbing from the endless pool and strolling along the deck... removing and dropping her bikini as she went.  She entered the yoga-studio and headed for the attached dry-sauna, as expected.  Edwina smiled, then began tapping the keyboard again, amending her action plan.  She then moved on to the final pair of absolutely crucial items remaining on her list.

6.   Tea.  Lydia's smart-house management system already had state-of-the-art beverage concoction and distribution hardware and software, but it was all tailored to Lydia Aelios' personal preferences, and outrageously, did not include brewing a proper cup of tea as the recognized top priority!  An extensive stock of expensive (and yummy) tea blends were stored in the automated pantry, but they were there for Lydia's infrequent guests/visitors.  Edwina reprogrammed the beverage subroutine, upgrading tea from the standby to the priority menu.  That included reprogramming and restocking the "Coffee-bot" and renaming it the "Tea-bot."  Of course, coffee would continue being available on request).

7.   Clothing.  Enough with all this uncivilized and scandalous involuntary nudity!  Edwina dispatched a valet-bot to fetch her a proper set of clothing—but was dismayed to find that Lydia had ordered the system to dispose of her entire wardrobe!  It had all been consigned to the subterranean recycling chamber the very day she was captured, including her luggage, and everything had already been torn apart and/or shredded!  One more egregious crime Lydia Aelios had to answer for!  Plan two: find something to wear from the bitch's vast closets.  The problem would be a proper fit.  Edwina's figure was more svelte than Lydia's and she was less well-endowed in the boob department.  The bitch's everyday custom tailored and hideously expensive business outfits would hang off her frame and she'd look quite ridiculous.  Edwina filtered the available clothing that reasonably met her size-requirements and everything dropped from the list except for exercise clothing such as swimwear (string bikinis but not one piece suits), running shorts, sports bras, yoga pants, and several spandex one piece leotards/running suits.
Edwina sighed, not especially satisfied with any of her immediate fashion options, but chose the least objectionable item on the list, then secured the workstation and let "Gumball" the mini-guide-bot show the way to the nearest elevator.  Once there, she would await the arrival of a valet-bot with her new costume—the first actual clothing Edwina would be wearing since her capture.


Lydia felt as limp and relaxed as the proverbial noodle... but was also becoming overheated.  Her entire body was flushed and dripping with sweat.  She took another drink from the insulated water-bottle in her hand, then closed the cap and returned it to the refrigerator built into the cedar bench.  She debated whether to stand under the in-sauna shower area in the center of the room and have the system drench her with cold water, or to terminate the session.  Enough is enough, she finally decided, rose to her bare feet—executed a languid full-body stretch—then padded towards the sauna's glass door... then skidded to a stop and frowned.  The portal of thick, insulated safety glass should have whisked open on her approach, but it hadn't.

"Open door," she ordered.  Nothing happened.  "System, open the sauna door."  Still nothing.  "System, this is User-zero-zero-Aelios-comma-Lydia.  Open the sauna door immediately!"  The door remained closed and Lydia's frown became a petulant scowl.  In the event of a total  power failure (which was astronomically unlikely) the door should open automatically; however, there was no power failure.  The sauna's interior lights were still shining.  "Dammit!" Lydia cursed, then flipped open a small cedar cover next to the door.  In the shallow alcove revealed was the manual release for the door's latching mechanism.  She pulled the handle... or rather she tried to pull the handle.  It didn't budge.  Lydia tried again, this time using two hands and all her strength.  It still didn't budge.

Lydia's frown faded and she blinked in surprise and confusion.  Also, through the slightly tinted glass of the door she could see no less than four mobile capture-bots trundling across the padded floor of the yoga-studio in her direction, and she hadn't called them!  Two of the bots made a beeline for the sauna while the second pair held back as programmed, positioning themselves to act as backup in the highly unlikely possibility their target evaded the first pair.  All four bots had unfolded and extended their many arms, and Lydia noted that all of the padded manipulators were configured for restraint!

Lydia's eyes popped wide and she swallowed nervously.  It was abundantly obvious that in some incomprehensible manner, she was the bots' designated target!  "System!" she shouted as she released the non-functioning release handle, "open the sauna door, and cancel the current capture program!The door finally opened—Whisk!—but Lydia strongly suspected it wasn't in response to her command.  She backed away from the threshold—but it was too late!  One of the lead capture bots grabbed her wrists and dragged her from the sauna!

"No!  No!  Terminate program!  This is User-zero-zero-Aelios-comma-Lydia, dammit!  Terminate pro-grmfh!  MRRRM!"

Working in concert, with their usual graceful, balletic coordination, the bots had lifted Lydia's sweaty, naked body into the air, easily defeating her most strenuous and panicked struggles, as they'd been programmed—and the instant she was off the ground, Lydia's hair was seized, bundled together, and held out of the way while a ball-gag was popped in her sputtering mouth and a panel-gag-muzzle added that covered her lower face and cupped her chin!  "Mrrrpfh!"  Both gag and muzzle were the amber-colored, translucent, synthetic material of Lydia's revolutionary new and improved tubular bondage system, but only the strap of the ball-gag was tubular.  The ball plugging her mouth was a 2½" sphere of semi-solid foam while the panel-gag was a stretched sheet.  "Nrrrmrf!"

The bots held Lydia in their "comfortable" padded grip, including her gagged head—"Mrrrrrf!"—as, in an interweaving dance almost too fast for the human eye to follow, other arms dressed her hair.  When they were finished, the target's wet, sweaty hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, then plaited into a compact three-part braid and secured at the tip with a tight, three-inch, synthetic rubber sleeve.  Then, the two capture-bots restraining Lydia's wrists, ankles, and other parts of her sweaty, glistening anatomy, joined together end-to-end to become one double-bot, then lowered the target's struggling form to their hard and now table-like top surfaces, and locked in place.  They then spun 180° and rolled away, obviously headed for the nearest elevator.

Needless to say, Lydia was not happy about this recent turn of events.  "Nrfh!  MRRRM!"  She struggled and squirmed, but her best efforts to escape were as ineffectual as Edwina's and Alice's had proven to be when they were the capture-bots' targets.


Alice opened her eyes.

She was naked and lying on her back inside a... hi-tech sarcophagus?  Yes, now she remembered, and "hi-tech sarcophagus" was as good a name as any.  She remembered Lydia's robots carrying her to her current location—a rectangular chamber with walls, ceiling and floor all painted flat-black with the sarcophagus in the center and the only light coming from an array of widely spaced LED spotlights overhead, around the periphery of the ceiling—and then the bots strapped her into the sarcophagus in question.  Barely able to squirm, gagged, and with her face covered by an airtight gas-mask, the clear, curved lid closed.  Then, the overhead lights winked out, but were immediately replaced by two rows of bright LEDs lining the inside of her close-fitting prison, one neat row on either side.

She looked up through the clear, curved lid of the sarcophagus and beheld her reflection in a mirror mounted on the ceiling.  She'd been too busy fighting the robots to really notice it before.  Anyway, there she was... helpless... encased in glass and steel like a Sci-Fi Sleeping Beauty... and... helpless... and there was her reflection overhead.  Struggling was pointless, but she did it anyway.  Mewling through the gag/gas-mask was also pointless, but she did that anyway.  Time passed.  She closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep, there being no other logical course... but found she couldn't.  She tried... but sleep wouldn't come.

She wiggled and tugged on her bonds... but they were as tight and inescapable as ever.  Horrible.  And it went on and on.

And then... somehow... she finally fell asleep.

And now she was awake.

Alice sat up.  Her former bonds, including the gas-mask and its flexible hose, were arrayed around her in all directions.  She stretched—"Eyah!"  The sarcophagus lid was folded back on her right, so she carefully climbed off the sarcophagus on her left, planted her bare feet on the cool, smooth, ebony-black floor, and stretched again—this time full-length, arching her back and reaching for her reflection in the ceiling.  "Eyaaah!"

Suddenly, the ten or twelve vertical panels lining the walls snapped open, the inevitable robot-arms extended into the chamber, seized Alice—"Hey!  No, dammit!  Stop!"—lifted her into the air, and executed their programmed tasks.  As always, it all happened too fast, the robots were too strong, and Alice's vigorous efforts to escape were totally in vain.  "I said stop!  MRRRF!"

When the routine had run its course, the robo-arms deposited Alice's feet back in the floor, withdrew back into their respective alcoves, and the covers snapped shut.

"Mrrrf!"  Alice's arms were now folded behind her back and she was bound with more of the ubiquitous amber-colored rubber tubing.  In fact, her forearms were encased in what amounted to an interwoven sheath of the stuff from wrist to wrist.  In addition, single strands of tubing pinned her upper arms against her torso, passing above and below her boobs, and yoking her shoulders.  The stretched rubber was tight enough to dimple her tan skin, but not tight enough to cause significant discomfort, even when she struggled, which she did.

"Mrrrmpfh!"  And then there was the tape gag.  She looked up at the mirror overhead and confirmed that it was, in fact, a tape-gag... or maybe not.  She finally decided it was a combination tape-gag and panel-gag of more of the same translucent amber rubber as the rest of her bonds.  It had an adhesive lining and was stretched across her lower face like a rubber sheet, pressing against her mouth and closed lips, tightly cupping her chin, then narrowing to a broad band as it extended completely around her head and pressed against the nape of her neck under her blond hair.

And speaking of hair, the Let's-Box-Tie-And-Gag-Alice program had included a hairdressing routine.  Her long blond curls had been brushed and combed and now framed her gagged and understandably peeved face.  It fluttered and swayed as Alice tossed her head, rolled her shoulders, twisted at the waist, squirmed, wiggled, tugged and generally tested her new bonds.  The bonds passed.  At least my legs are free, she silently conceded.

Just then, the chamber door whisked open and a small robot about the size and shape of a counter-top toaster-oven rolled into the chamber and stopped at her bare feet.  It had a red gumball-style light mounted on top, which proceeded to start flashing.

"Follow the red light to the nearest elevator," a disembodied, computer-generated voice ordered, the light stopped flashing and took on a steady, ruby-red glow, then the little robot spun 180°, trundled back across the threshold of the open door, turned to the right, and proceeded down the corridor beyond.

Brave but obviously pointless defiance was all well and good, but Alice heaved a gagged sigh and padded after the disappearing bot.  She might as well.  The alternative was probably being manhandled by the mobile versions of Lydia's grab-handed robot kidnappers.  She quickly caught up to her guide and padded in its wake.  They made several turns and passed closed door after closed door... and finally arrived at what was clearly an elevator.  Its doors whisked open—Very Star Trek, Alice mused—they entered the car, the doors closed—Whisk!—and it began to rise.

The doors opened—Whisk!—and Alice found herself back in Lydia's apartment suite.  Through the window-walls she saw picturesque shafts of sunlight shining through broken clouds and playing across patches of the chaparral-covered hillsides and the surface of the Pacific beyond.  Its red light still shining, the mini-robot continued across the carpeted floor, rolling deeper into Lydia's luxurious Ultramodern abode.

Alice heaved another sigh and resumed following.  Obviously, Lydia had scheduled herself another gloating session.  Might as well get this over with, Alice silently fumed as she padded across the carpet.

Alice and her mini-bot guide arrived at what was obviously Lydia's home office.  The little robot's red light winked out as it rolled to a stop.  Seated in a posh office chair in front of a huge desk, her back more-or-less to Alice, her attention focused on the bank of flat-screen monitors displaying scrolling lines of multi-colored computer code before her, and her fingers flying across the keys of the virtual keyboard built into the desktop was—NOT Lydia!  Alice's pale blue eyes popped wide in surprise. 
Edwina in catsuit
Edwina! Alice remembered.  Edwina Bliss!  Doctor Edwina Bliss!  The last time she'd seen her fellow prisoner they'd both been naked, bound, and gagged, but now... not so much!  In fact, not at all!  Edwina was wearing... a long-sleeve unitard?  The base-layer of a skiing outfit?  A futuristic Sci-Fi uniform?  Whatever the proper designation of the garment, it was charcoal-gray and hugged her svelte, fit body like the proverbial glove.  Anyway, Edwina wasn't naked, and she wasn't bound and gagged!  However, Alice noticed, she was barefoot, like Alice herself.  Then again, barefoot was no big deal compared to naked and tied up.  The not naked, not bound, not gagged, and no-longer-fellow-prisoner's long brown hair trailed down her back in a sleek, severe ponytail.

Edwina rose from the chair and turned to face Alice.  "There you are," she said with a smile, looking at the blonde's naked, restrained body from head to toe in an assessing manner.  "None the worse for wear, it would appear."  She then focused on the mini-robot.  "Thank you, Gumball.  That will be all."

Alice watched as the little robot (whose name, apparently, was "Gumball") spun on its wheels, rolled across the office, and disappeared from sight.  Also, from her accent, she noted that Edwina was British, probably English.

Edwina's smile faded.  "Oh, I'm terribly sorry," she sighed,  "This was unintended."  She turned back to the desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of sharp scissors, then padded towards Alice.  "I've been very busy and neglected to notice that apparently some form of gag is the default setting of the control-and-restrain protocol.  Please forgive me."  She stepped behind Alice, parted her flaxen curls at the nape of her neck, then teased the bottom margin of the synthetic rubber mask-tape-panel away from her neck with her fingertips, then carefully—very carefully—snipped and severed the stretched band of amber material with tiny, nibbling cuts, not letting the scissors' sharp tips touch Alice's skin.  "Things have been absolutely hectic," she continued, "a thousand and one things to change or not change, and all of it demanding my full and immediate attention,"—Snip-snip-snip...—"or at least my detailed supervision."

The cut now complete, Edwina began peeling the gag from Alice's face.  It was, in fact, the same synthetic rubber as Alice's tubular box-tie bonds, but was a single stretched sheet coated on the inside with what Alice hoped was a hypoallergenic adhesive.  Whatever its dermatological properties, the glue-like substance was surrendering its grip on Alice's lips and lower face with great reluctance.  The mask-like panel finally came away and Edwina tossed it aside.

Alice licked her lips, worked her jaw, and watched as a small Roomba-like robot darted from hiding, extended a small manipulator arm, and carried the gag-remnant away, she assumed for disposal.

"There," Edwina said as she turned, padded back to the desk, and returned the scissors to the drawer.  She then positioned a nearby visitor chair next to the throne-like office chair and patted its plastic seat.  "Here.  Come join me."

Alice blinked her pale blue eyes... then padded to the visitor chair and took Edwina's advice, settling her naked tush onto the questionable comfort of the hard seat.  "Uh... what's happening?" she inquired (which was only logical).

"I've rescued us," Edwina explained with a smug smile.

Alice blinked a few more times, then twisted her upper body and tugged against her synthetic-rubber-box-tie-bonds.  "Uh..."

"I'll explain the technical details later," Edwina continued, "but rest assured that I'm in control of the situation, meaning Lydia Aelios' and her entire organization.  Also, I'm in the process of implementing an optimal final outcome to our, uh, adventure.  That will take some time, I'm afraid, but rest assured we're entirely safe and—"

"Stop!" Alice commanded, her expression unmistakably angry.  "Where is—"  Her expression instantly shifted to one of amazement and surprise.  "Oh."

The formerly featureless wall directly beyond the desk and its arc of flat-screen monitors had revealed itself to be a gigantic projection screen, and it was now displaying the video image of a naked, bound, gagged, and vigorously struggling brunette—and that brunette was unmistakably Lydia Aelios!

Both Edwina and Alice stared at the screen in silence.  Alice was still wide-eyed and bewildered, but was no longer angry.  Edwina gazed with a serene smile.

Lydia was in a chamber with a padded floor and walls lined with the usual vertical panels, no doubt hiding the usual robot-arms poised in their alcoves and waiting to pounce.  It was one of the seemingly countless number of damsel-holding/handling-cells beneath their feet.  Lydia was naked and lying full-length on the floor with her legs together and arms behind her back.  Neat bands of amber-colored synthetic rubber tubing—which apparently was the prisoner-restraint-sub-system's bondage medium of choice—bound Lydia's wiggling, squirming body at her ankles, mid lower legs, above and below her knees, her mid-thighs, wrists, waist and forearms, and passed above and below her breasts, pinning her upper-arms against her torso and her elbows together.  In addition, a web-like, diamond-hitch pattern of single strands augmented Lydia's helplessness, crisscrossing her entire body from her shoulders to her feet and big toes.  A close-fitting steel collar was around Lydia's neck and her lips sealed by a broad strip of off-white medical tape.  The shape of Lydia's lips stood out in three dimensional detail and—

Alice had just realized her collar was missing.  It was no longer hugging her neck like a high-fashion choker.  "Where's my collar?" she inquired casually.

Edwina continued gazing at the screen, but her smile faded.  "I had it removed, of course.  It was an obedience collar, by the way, the kind used to train dogs to stop barking."  She shifted her smile to Alice.  "Did you know that?  Did she tell you?  Did she ever turn it on?"

Alice shook her head.  "No."  She focused on the struggling, squirming, larger-than-life image on the screen, once again.  "Not yet."

Edwina continued gazing at the screen.  "And now, not ever."

Lydia's brown hair was plaited in a tight braid that flailed and flopped on the floor as she struggled.

Alice tugged on her own much less elaborate bonds.  "Why am I tied up?"

Edwina's smile returned (somewhat) as she heaved an apologetic sigh.  "I'm afraid it's necessary."  She tapped a virtual icon on the desktop—Lydia's squirming, naked, bound, gagged, and collared image disappeared—then she turned back to fully face Alice.  "As I explained earlier, I have complete control of Lydia's system, but I'm still systematically going through the code to solidify that control.  I'm also implementing a solution to our situation."

Alice's frown was back.  "Okay... but that doesn't explain why I'm still tied up."

Edwina heaved another sigh, then noticed a blinking block of red text on a side-monitor, turned and tapped the keyboard several times until the text stopped blinking and changed color to match the surrounding code, then turned back to Alice.  "There's an increasingly small probability the expert software management programs and I will miss something, someone somewhere will realize that something unusual is happening in Lydia's lair, and they might start asking awkward questions and causing a stir.  The absolute worst case scenario is the authorities arrive in force and take complete and immediate control.  Even though Lydia would surely be prosecuted for her conduct, we could also be prosecuted for not summoning the police immediately and for kidnapping Lydia in turn."

"But, we're gonna have to do that anyway," Alice objected, "aren't we?  Call the cops?"

Edwina's smile returned.  "Not necessarily," she purred.  "Remember, I've had a little more time to think about this than you.  I assume you'd like to return to your acting career as soon as possible?"

"Of course."

"Well," Edwina continued.  "Just as a mental exercise, suppose Aelios Cybertronics was to approach Lucasfilm and Disney and announce that they've decided to dip their toe in the movie-making business and propose a highly favorable partnership, if they're allowed to join in the production of their new film trilogy.  That would include substantial financial investment and access to AC's bleeding edge robotics technology and software engineering expertise, of course."

Alice frowned.  "But—"

"That's why you disappeared, you see," Edwina continued.  "Your old friend Lydia arranged to have you clandestinely whisked away to her luxurious and isolated mansion to discuss the proposal.  Lydia wanted to take advantage of your industry expertise, you see, and insisted on all the silly cloak-and-dagger nonsense.  Also, the entire deal hinges on your continued casting in all three movies."

Again, Alice began blinking her pale blue eyes.  "That's... ridiculous."

Edwina's smile widened.  "Yes, absolutely; but tell me... how many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of investment would it take for the studios to decide that Lydia's bizarre behavior and your covert involvement isn't ridiculous at all, but just another amusing example of Lydia Aelios' well-known eccentricity?"

"Point taken," Alice sighed, "but won't Lydia have to agree to all of this?"

Edwina's broad smile continued.  "As it turns out... no.  It should come as no surprise that Lydia has little patience or talent with respect to personal interaction.  She finds even polite conversation exceedingly tiresome, including routine meetings with the senior executives of her own business empire."

"No, ya think?" Alice muttered.

"Anyway," Edwina chuckled, "some years ago, when the technology involved was just becoming viable, Lydia decided to develop a so-called 'Deep Fake' copy of herself to handle video conferences."

Alice gazed at Edwina with a skeptical frown, which Edwina returned with a serene smile.

"Over the years," Edwina continued, "the simulation has become more and more sophisticated and is now totally convincing, and she's started relying on it more and more."

"Okay, that might help us in the short run," Alice conceded, "but—"

Still smiling, Edwina raised her right hand.  "Hold that thought."  She then turned to the desk and pressed a virtual function key on the virtual keyboard, followed by several more virtual keys.

The gigantic projection screen flashed to life, and on it was the image of Lydia Aelios wearing a skimpy, very revealing one-piece bathing suit in scarlet-red and a pair of designer shades.  She was reclined on a lounge chair out on the mansion's deck, reading an iPad, and sipping the straw of an icy drink in a tall tumbler with a fruit garnish.  She heaved an exasperated sigh, set the drink on a nearby side-table, removed her sunglasses, and scowled at the camera lens capturing her image.


"Sorry to bother you, Lydia darling," Edwina purred, "but George Lucas would like to talk to you.  He has some suggestions about the use of robotics in the second and third films and—"

"Stop!" Lydia barked.  "I told you!  I expect you to handle the project, Dr. Bliss, so handle it!"  She picked up her drink, took a sip, then set it down again.  "Go away."  She tapped the screen of her iPad and the gigantic screen before Alice and Edwina winked out.

Edwina beamed at her naked, bound, blond co-conspirator.  "You see?  I keep all interactions short and deflect all decisions, and I assure you, the simulation is technically perfect.  I would know.  I've seen the code, and the system has thousands of hours of video of Lydia and her verbal interactions to refine Deep-Fake-Lydia's syntax and mannerisms.  The wonders of machine learning."

Gazing at the now blank wall, Alice nodded... then her frown returned.  "Wait, how do I know the earlier image—the one of Lydia naked, bound, and gagged—wasn't the... 'Deep Fake'?"

"Deep Fake," Edwina confirmed with a nod.  "At some point I'll take you down below so you can kick Lydia a few times to make sure she's real."

"Okay," Alice muttered, then heaved a sigh.  "I'm still not sure this can work."

Edwina was still smiling.  "Unfortunately, poor Lydia is becoming more and more of a recluse.  In fact, I'm now the only person she'll talk to face-to-face, apparently because we're scientific peers.  Soon, as far as the outside world is concerned, while Lydia Aelios might write the occasional scientific paper, she'll stop attending scientific conferences altogether, will grant no media interviews, and will leave the day-to-day running of her business empire to her subordinates, especially myself."

"She'll be like Howard Hughes," Alice said in a near whisper.

"Exactly," Edwina confirmed, "only with expert systems and robots to maintain her diet and exercise routine so she remains fit and healthy."

"That's... tragic," Alice said evenly, a ghost of a smile threatening to curl her lips.

Edwina shrugged.  "Billionaires can be as eccentric as they wish, especially when their business is private, not a partnership, and not a publicly traded corporation.  No irritating boards of directors or share-holders to demand their appearance at meetings."

Alice nodded... then squirmed in her chair (and tugged on her bonds).  "When do I get to go home?"

"Two or three days at the absolute most," Edwina reassured her friend and fellow-schemer.  "Negotiations with the studios are already underway."

Alice nodded again, then affected a wounded pout.  "Your explanation about why I need to be tied up is absolute bullshit," she huffed.

Edwina blinked innocently, her smile never wavering as she gazed at Alice's naked, synthetic-rubber-bound body.  "Lydia has her eccentricities... and I have mine.  Don't worry, I know how to keep my hands to myself and I'll keep the robots in check."

"You're kidnapping me too, aren't you?" Alice demanded, her features set in a mildly disapproving stare.

Edwina blushed.  "Uh... you're very beautiful... and now that there's no question of permanent enslavement and endless erotic torture, I find I'm quite enjoying myself."  Her lips curled in a shy smile.  "I hope you don't mind if I indulge myself just a little.  I think we can both agree that I've earned it... and I will let you go, as soon as I can... and I will keep my hands to myself.  I promise."

Alice continued staring at her blushing and smiling captor/rescuer.  Could she be any cuter? the naked but only semi-bound actress asked herself.  Seconds passed... then she decided to let her smile surface.  "Well, It's not like I can do anything about it, is there?"

Edwina's happy, rather girlish smile returned.  "Brilliant!  Cuppa?"

Alice raised an eyebrow.  "Come again?"

"Would you care for a cup of tea?"

Alice shrugged her rubber-tubing yoked shoulders.  "Coffee would be nice."

"That's possible," Edwina purred, then tapped a teacup-shaped icon off to the side of the desk's virtual keyboard.  "The tea-trolley-bot is on the way."

Still smiling, Alice tugged on her bound wrists and forearms.  "And how am I supposed to drink coffee when I'm tied up like this?" she demanded.

Edwina beamed.  "Don't be silly, darling.  That's what robots are for."


...except for Lydia.

(See Epilogue for additional details.)



Chapter 7